The night after his team wrapped up a third consecutive CCL championship, Hartley football coach Brad Burchfield attended Jonathan Alder's 24-23 victory over host London on Nov. 1.
Studying the matchup served two purposes for the Hawks.
Not only are the Pioneers the No. 2 seed behind Hartley in Division III, Region 11, but London edged Bellbrook for the eighth and final playoff berth in the region and will visit Hartley on Friday, Nov. 8, for a first-round game.
The Hawks and Red Raiders both rely on strong running games, with Hartley quarterback Miles Fleming completing 39 of 65 passes for 668 yards and five touchdowns on the season and London quarterback Juane Gardner completing 37 of 81 for 546 yards and seven scores.
The biggest difference might be the teams' schedules.
Hartley, which is 9-1 overall, scored the most computer points (33.7214) in the state while beating three playoff teams, including DeSales 20-13 on Oct. 31 to finish 3-0 in the CCL.
London is 8-2 but was 1-2 against playoff teams, posted one of its wins against the Reigning Sports Academy club team (56-14 on Sept. 5) and played six other teams that compete in either Division IV or V.
"They're a strong, powerful team," Burchfield said. "They're very physical. They seem to have a great running back and a really good, big offensive and defensive line. The key to the matchup is simple: We have to match their physical play."
Senior running back Jalan January rushed 35 times for 255 yards and two touchdowns amid blustery, cold weather in the win over DeSales to give him 1,307 yards and 21 touchdowns on the season.
Fleming (613 yards, 8 TDs), Richard Kenny (262 yards), Mason Sawyer (513 yards, 6 TDs) and Marcelis Parker (330 yards) also have been effective runners for the Hawks, while Kenny (11 receptions, 205 yards) and Angelo Evans (11 receptions, 228 yards) are their top receivers.
Running back Caleb Sollars, a 5-foot-7, 206-pound senior, has produced five consecutive 100-plus yardage games and has 971 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground to lead London's offense.
Antwaun Burns (454 yards, 10 TDs), Khaleb Comer (527 yards, 6 TDs), Gardner (321 yards, 6 TDs) and Xavier Manville (385 yards, 4 TDs) have been other top runners for the Red Raiders.
London is in its sixth season under Kyle Cutler, the brother of Ready coach Joel Cutler. The Red Raiders endured five losing records in six seasons from 2011-16 before going 8-3 in 2017 and 11-2 last season when they lost to eventual state champion Cincinnati Wyoming 28-0 in the Division IV, Region 16 final.
The Hartley-London winner will play fourth-seeded Granville or fifth-seeded Zanesville in a regional semifinal Nov. 15 at a neutral site.
The Hawks have won five games in a row since falling 24-14 on Sept. 27 to Clarksville Clinton-Massie, a Division IV playoff qualifier.
Against DeSales, the Hawks trailed 13-12 before driving 70 yards to score the winning touchdown, a 6-yard run by January with 2 minutes, 41 seconds remaining.
Hartley has won three games in a row against the Stallions, who are 8-2 and made the Division II, Region 8 playoffs. DeSales finished 2-1 in the CCL.
"This game was just a milestone to get us better as the season progresses," January said. "Our goal is obviously to win a state championship and this is just a steppingstone to get to where we're going to be. Good things happen when everybody is clicking. Especially when the weather is like this, you've just got to do what you've got to do to get the game done. We're at a point where we're good enough that we can do anything we put our minds to."